I needed a week-end get-away to recharge my batteries, see old friends, have some thinking time, a change of scenery. You know what I mean – I just needed a break. I’ve been missing all the traveling like did this time last year. So off I went, headed down US 78 towards Birmingham, Alabama.
Several weeks ago I heard Little Memphis Blues Orchestra, affectionately known at LiMBO, was going to be playing at The Workplay Theatre. So when tickets went on sale, I bought one, just in case I decided to get away or needed something to do that week-end.
I got up Saturday morning, still thinking I’d make the four hour drive, but at the same time thinking I must be a bit daft in the head to do so. The band wouldn’t take the stage until 8:00 pm or so, so I had plenty of time to make up my mind. By the time it was 1:30, I had packed my suitcase and was ready to get a quick shower. By 3:00, I was sitting in my car, programming Madge (my GSP buddy) with the hotel address. Within 30 minutes I was pulling out of the driveway and on my way.
As I said, I needed some thinking time. For the first hour or so, I kept thinking about what I was doing, where I was going, and why was I driving four hours or so just to listen to some live music. Why wasn’t I headed down to Memphis’ own Beale Street to listen instead? Certainly was closer, not to mention cheaper because I wouldn’t have to have a hotel for the night. After two hours of this insane crazy thinking, I began to watch the scenery, the brown rolling hills of Alabama. And the single doe off the side of the road, back to the traffic, eating the brush. It was time to head to Alabama for an evening of music!
Knowing I had a four hour drive and knowing how much I hate to drive at night didn’t get me on the road any sooner. And I’d been told that US 78 was open all the way to Birmingham, so the detour through Jasper wouldn’t be necessary. It was quite dark by the time I passed those Jasper exits and the new section of highway was very smooth. And dark!
I passed the exit with a small sign at the bottom that said “Birmingham”. Now you would think that if this was the right exit, the words would take up the sign and not be in small print on a second sign underneath the exit. I kept going. And the highway ended – all traffic must exit – out in the middle of who-knows-where! No lights, no warning, just an exit ramp. I turned left and found myself in the twilight zone in the boondocks so I turned around and went back. Only there was no sign as to where to get back on US 78 so I kept going. Finally civilization and signs that I-65 was just ahead. Whee!
Within fifteen minutes or less I was parked across the street from my hotel. The only problem was, it was almost 8:00 and I wanted to already be a Workplay. You see, this is a standing-room-only kind of place with a few tables surrounding the otherwise dance floor. Since I’m not much of a stander or dancer, I wanted to make sure I found a table with a good view.
Rather than check-in, I drove over to Workplay. I presented my ticket and had my license checked to verify I’m over 21. You’d think with the white hair that would be a given! And just before the doors were to open! Plenty of tables to choose from at this time (and it was not going to be a problem all evening either).
I picked a spot near the steps and sat down. Within a few minutes, several other guests stopped by and we chatted. What! This was the beginning of a Soul Patrol reunion! Ladies were coming from all around the eastern, central and southern states to listen to LiMBO! I’d say about half of those attending the show were Soul Patrol! It was great to see so many familiar faces! We had a chance to catch up, see what everyone was up to, have a few drinks (for me, a couple of well-caffeinated diet cokes), and just relax.
There was a familiar face walking around inside. One I remembered from Taylor Hicks’ summer tour – Clay Connor. I thought maybe he was there to help LiMBO. What a surprise I was in for! Clay Connor, with his band, The Criminals, was the opening band. I knew Clay had been in the music business for a number of years, having played some with Taylor Hicks and other local musicians. But I’d never heard him sing – except on his MySpace page. I was about to be WOW’ed!
Not being familiar with Clay’s music, I can’t tell you what he sang. I can tell you he had another guitar player and a drummer. And I can tell you I enjoyed it! I think it all came from his latest independent album called “Maryland Avenue”. It’s not yet ready for full public release – the copy I bought was a self-made version on a Memorex CD. I didn’t care – I wanted to share his music with the blog-world! So….
Clay Connor was good, very good! He calls his sound Southern rock, but to me it was different – sort of country without being country. Like Taylor, it’s hard to pigeon-hole into the usual genres. I sat back and just enjoyed the music. When he announced he had a couple of CDs for sale at the end of his set, I jumped up to go buy one! Now Clay, if you perchance are reading this, buying a CD from a local musician is really a high compliment, coming from me. I just don’t buy CDs that often, so when I do, it’s because the music has really touched me and I want it to keep! And with that in mind, I only buy the CDs of artists that I really like, which numbers so few that they can be named on the fingers of one hand!
I asked Clay if I could post a cut from the CD and he recommended track 4, “Empty Pockets“. Enjoy! Due to unforeseen circumstances, I couldn't get the player to load, so after you finish reading, check out Clay's MySpace page where you can hear a couple of cuts from his CD, "Maryland Avenue".
After Clay finished, it was time for LiMBO. Brian Less, Zippy Dieterich, Sam Gunderson, Jeff Lopez, Mitch Jones and special percussionist, Jay Smith took their places as their fans rushed to the dance floor to shake, sway and shimmy to the music!
Workplay can hold up to 300 patrons in the main stage area, and there were probably about half that many there. And most of them were up dancing! The ages varied from barely legal age upwards to retirement age or older! We were clapping, applauding, shouting out our pleasure, and just sitting back, enjoying the music. Who cared what they played so long as they played!
A few songs known to be played by LiMBO such as “Hey, Pocky Way” and “What’s Going On”, plus some of their own original music from their own independent CD. Like Zippy’s “Sweetwater” and Sam’s “Southland” and Brian’s “Found”. I was so glad I’d made the trip – it was well worth the time, gas and mileage!
After a few songs, Brian announced a special guest, one I’d already spotted in the audience. Erin Mitchell joined the guys to sing a couple of her own soulful songs. Now that young lady can really belt out the blues – and you can really see her “feeling” the music!
Like midnight in a fairy tale, it was over too quickly. I didn’t get a chance to speak to the guys – they all took off in different directions as if shot from a scatter gun! Zippy was outside by the bar so I spoke to him on my way out. With a few more good-byes and promises to meet again soon, I left Workplay to go to my hotel – I still had to check in.
Many times I travel with my laptop, but not this trip. I read a chapter or two in my book and then turned out the lights. Time to rest, because I had to drive home in the morning. Time to reflect on spending a couple of hours listening to great music from two top-notch local bands. Time to think about what I wanted to write and the story to tell.
What did I come away with? What did I want to convey with this entry? Simply this: Being at Workplay, watching Clay Connor and LiMBO was like taking a trip back in time. Back before American Idol and Taylor Hicks’ win. Back to a time when young musicians were trying to make a name for themselves, sharing their music, wanting to have their voices heard. I was able to finally “see” what the pre-Idol scene was like for the Birmingham music scene. As I said, the only one missing was Taylor Hicks. Not because he’s better, best, or an Idol winner. But because he was part of that scene – it was his audition, along with Bo Bice, the Season Four runner-up, that put the Birmingham music scene on my map, my radar, and that brought me to Birmingham for the evening.
Good show, guys! I’ll be back again to see you!
Pictures & Short Videos
Taylor Hicks, American Idol, Soul Patrol, RagsQueen, Traveling Circus